February 19, 2021, submitted by the Hingham Historical Commission
The historic Skate House at 403 East Street on the pond near the Cohasset border is about to be demolished. Pursuing its mandate under a Town bylaw designed to save Hingham’s historic buildings from demolition “whenever possible,” the Hingham Historical Commission, a Town board appointed by the Selectmen, has been trying to save the Skate House. The Hingham Recreation Commission, which manages the Skate House, is about to tear it down. The specifics are described below. The attached Chronology and its exhibits provide additional details.
1. The Skate House belongs to the Town. It is more than a century old, with a charming historic interior and a unique role in Hingham’s culture. It has been included for many years in the Hingham Comprehensive Community Inventory of Historic, Architectural, and Archeological Assets.
2. In 1972, Town Meeting accepted the Skate House “with grateful thanks” as a gift from the Hingham Skating Club and delegated its “care, management, custody, and control” to the Recreation Commission, an elected Town board.
3. The Skate House decayed in recent years, and the Recreation commission has decided to demolish it.
4. The Historical Commission administers an historic preservation trust funded by the MBTA. In June, the Historical Commission proposed to the Recreation Commission a detailed plan to save and repair the Skate House’s historic core with a grant from that trust, while its full restoration is pursued. The Historical Commission has also proposed a plan to incorporate the Skate House core into a year-round recreational facility for boating, fishing, and picnicking as well as hockey and skating.
5. The Recreation Commission has rejected both plans and declined to work with the Historical Commission to develop and refine either of them, or any other, though it has said it has no plans for the Skate House, or its site, other than to demolish it.
6. In August of 2020, the Historical Commission exercised its authority under Article 31 of the Town’s bylaws to delay the demolition of the Skate House’s historic core for six months. The bylaw’s six-month delay provision allows time for a cooperative search for alternatives to the destruction of Hingham’s historic buildings. The Recreation Commission has declined to work with the Historical Commission on any alternatives to the Skate House’s demolition and has rejected or failed to reply to a series of written overtures from the Historical Commission seeking ways and means to cooperate.
7. The Building Commissioner has denied the Recreation Commission’s “emergency” application to demolish the Skate House.
8. The six-month Article 31 delay will expire, however, on February 24, 2021, and the Recreation Commission intends to demolish the Skate House promptly thereafter.
To inform the citizens of Hingham about the imminent loss of one of its unique historic buildings and cultural legacies, the Hingham Historical Commission presents this chronology regarding the pending demolition of the Skate House at 403 East Street on the pond near the Cohasset border. Neither the chronology itself nor its exhibits purport to be exhaustive. They are meant to summarize briefly what the Historical Commission believes are the most salient facts and events and to state the positions that the Historical Commission has taken on the matter.
Ca. Late 19th century or Early 20th Century
The Skate House was constructed as a utilitarian building on a site behind what is now the Hingham Town Hall.
1938 Annual Town Report
The Town acquired Smith’s Pond on East Street from the Nantasket Ice Company in 1938 and turned it over to the Hingham Skating Club: “To them belongs the credit of raising funds and holding a very successful season in the finest rink on the South Shore.”
1939 Annual Town Meeting
The Town authorized its then-existing Playground Committee to sell what is now the Skate House to the Hingham Skating Club for one dollar.
Thereafter, the Hingham Skating Club converted the building to a skate changing and warming space and fitted up its interior for that purpose in the charming style of the day. For more than 60 years, the citizens of the Town enjoyed the Skate House, which became a much-loved living legacy of a bygone time.
With “grateful thanks,” the Hingham Town Meeting accepted a gift of the Skate House and its site from the Hingham Skating Club and delegated its “care, custody, management and control” to the Hingham Recreation Commission, an elected Town board. (See Attachment B to Exhibit A hereto)
In connection with building the commuter rail line through Hingham, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (“MBTA”) finished paying to the Town, over a multi-year period, the sum of $1,350,000 to fund the Hingham Greenbush Historic Preservation Trust Fund (the “Greenbush Fund”). In conjunction with the Town Treasurer, the Historical Commission administers the Greenbush Fund and awards, each year, a total of up to $100,000 in Greenbush Fund grants to Hingham citizens, businesses, and institutions for historic preservation projects in Hingham.
The Skate House began to deteriorate to the point of decay. Subsequently, as we understand it, the Recreation Commission applied to the Hingham Community Preservation Committee for funds to pay for repairs or reconstruction, which were not granted. The Recreation Commission has never applied to the Historical Commission for any Greenbush Fund grants to repair or restore any part of the Skate House.
January 28, 2020
Having inspected the Skate House and reviewed an engineering report commissioned, as we understand it, by the Recreation Commission, the Building Commissioner notified the Recreation Commission that the building had deteriorated to the point of a safety hazard and that the Recreation Commission was obliged to start to make it safe and secure. A fence was promptly erected to secure it.
Pursuing its duty under Article 31 of the Hingham Bylaws to assess the significance of historic buildings threatened with demolition (see Exhibit B), the Historical Commission made a site visit to the Skate House with the Recreation Commission’s Director and examined it in and out.
Article 31 of the Hingham Bylaws is also known as the Demolition Delay Bylaw. The stated intention of Article 31 is to preserve the Town’s historic and culturally significant buildings from demolition “whenever possible.” Article 31’s provision for a six month demolition delay, discussed below, is designed to allow time for discussion and cooperative problem solving before any such building is needlessly destroyed.
May 29, 2020
As Article 31, § 4A provides, the Historical Commission was notified that the Recreation Commission had submitted to the Building Commissioner an application for a permit to demolish the Skate House.
June 1, 2020
At a public meeting, the Historical Commission heard a report on the Skate House’s history from one of its members, heard a citizen’s oral history, and voted unanimously to declare the Skate House historically and culturally significant to the Town as Article 31, § 4 authorizes it to do.
A professional architect who sits on the Historical Commission prepared a detailed plan (Attachment D to Exhibit A) to (a) save the historic core of the Skate House (the “Skate House Core”) and restore it to a safe condition suitable under the building code for the Recreation Commission to use for storing hockey nets and other storage (“Stage One”) until it can be improved to suitability for its traditional public use (“Stage Two”); and (b) allow the much later-built and less important part of the building to be taken down. Its decay is too far advanced for practicable restoration.
June 29, 2020
The Building Commissioner approved the Historical Commission’s Stage One plan as suitable to support an application for a building permit.
July 3, 2020
A Hingham contractor gave a member of the Historical Commission a $28,300 estimate of the cost to accomplish Stage One.
July 7, 2020
At a public meeting, the Historical Commission voted unanimously to cover the projected cost of Stage One by setting aside $30,000 from the Greenbush Fund’s 2020 grant distribution.
Thereafter, the Recreation Commission was so informed and chose not to apply to the Historical Commission for the $30,000 Greenbush Fund grant that the Historical Commission had set aside to pay for Stage One.
July 27, 2020
At a public meeting, having not received a demolition plan from the Recreation Commission (which had not received from the Historical Commission the notification of the Recreation Commission’s obligation to file such a plan that Article 31 requires), the Historical Commission reaffirmed its June 1, 2020 vote and determined that the Skate House Core should be preserved and a report should be prepared and sent to the Building Commissioner triggering a demolition delay under Article 31. That vote was mooted and superseded by the Recreation Commission’s July 30, 2020 filing of a demolition plan and by the Historical Commission’s August 20, 2020 and August 24, 2020 votes noted below.
July 30, 2020
As Article 31, § 4 requires, the Recreation Commission submitted to the Historical Commission a demolition plan for the Skate House, which said, among other things, that the Recreation Commission “does not have a clear vision on any possible future recreational amenities or structures at this location.” (Attachment E to Exhibit B)
August 3, 2020
Citing Article 31, § 5, the Recreation Commission applied to the Building Commissioner for an “Emergency Demolition” permit to demolish the Skate House forthwith.
August 7, 2020
In a letter to the Building commissioner, the Historical Commission opposed an emergency demolition permit.
August 20, 2020
At a public hearing held under Article 31, § E, the Historical Commission determined and voted unanimously, tracking the governing language of Article 31, that the Skate House Core is historically significant and that it is in the public interest to preserve, rehabilitate, or restore it.
August 24, 2020
As Article 31 mandates, the Historical Commission submitted a written report to the Building Commissioner (Exhibit A) that (a) described the Skate House and its historic and cultural importance (which has since been further researched, as partly described in the first three items above); (b) attached the Historical Commission’s plan to repair the Skate House Core and make it safe; (c) reported the Historical Commission’s determination that a six-month demolition delay should be imposed; and (d) explained the Historical Commission’s reasoning and its interactions with the Recreation Commission. The Historical Commission sent the Recreation Commission a copy of that report, which triggered a six-month demolition delay under Article 31.
September 14, 2020
The Building Commissioner wrote the Historical Commission’s chair that he favored an emergency demolition permit and explained his reasoning.
September 17, 2020
The Historical Commission replied to the Building Commissioner’s letter to its chair and urged him to reconsider several points.
October 7, 2020
The Building Commissioner proposed to the Historical Commission and the Recreation Commission a solution to the Skate House issue that he later withdrew after discussion with town counsel.
November 2, 2020
The Building Commissioner denied the Recreation Commission’s emergency demolition permit and explained his reasoning.
December 1, 2020
The Historical Commission presented at the Recreation Commission’s monthly public meeting a proposal to (a) pay for the cost of Stage One from Greenbush Fund grants; (b) explore ways and means to fund Stage Two and create a year-round recreational facility at the site, using Greenbush Fund grants, an application for Community Preservation Commission funds, volunteer labor, requests to local businesses for discounted prices on materials, community fundraising, and the like; and (c) form a joint task force to pursue these things and resolve any and all issues. The visual part of that proposal, including its professional architectural renderings, is attached as Exhibit C.
The Recreation Commission rejected that proposal on the spot and declined even to vote on it.
December 4, 2020
The Historical Commission sent a letter to the chair of the Board of Selectmen that summarized the essence of the foregoing and asked for a meeting between the Selectmen and members of the Historical Commission to discuss the issue.
The Selectmen declined to hold such a meeting.
December 8, 2020
By email to the Recreation Commission’s chair, the Historical Commission offered to enter into an agreement with the Recreation Commission, which Article 31, § 4(G) allows, to permit the more deteriorated portion of the Skate House, not including the Skate House Core, to be demolished forthwith.
No response was received.
January 11, 2021
At a public meeting, the Historical Commission voted unanimously to (a) expand its offer to the Recreation Commission to draw upon the Greenbush Fund to pay for the full cost of Stage One; (b) commit to help raise funds to pay for Stage Two, “including a significant contribution” from the Greenbush Fund; (c) at the Recreation Commission’s option, arrange for the restoration work and oversee it, to spare them the time and trouble; (d) ask the Recreation Commission to reconsider its position; (e) offer it “any further information or cooperation as may be useful;” and (f) again urge the Recreation Commission to join a joint task force to resolve any and all safety, finance, utilization, and other issues and pursue the Historical Commission’s proposal for a year-round facility at the site or any variations the Recreation Commission may propose. (Exhibit D)
Thereafter, the Historical Commission sent its January 11, 2021 motion to the Recreation Commission’s Director, who replied that he had forwarded it to all five members of the Recreation Commission.
We have never received a reply.
February 1, 2021
At a public meeting, the Historical Commission voted unanimously to propose to the Recreation Commission that it submit to Town Meeting a warrant article transferring the Town’s delegation of the “care, custody, management and control” of the Skate House to the Historical Commission. The Historical Commission would then be able to save the Skate House Core from demolition, repair it and make it safe, and proceed in due course to issue Greenbush Fund grants and raise other funds for the Skate House Core’s full restoration to public use, potentially as part of the year-round recreational facility that the Historical Commission had proposed.
February 10, 2021
A letter from the Historical Commission, describing its warrant article proposal, was sent by email to the Recreation Commission’s chair. (Exhibit E)
February 16, 2021
On inquiry, Historical Commission Staff was informed by the Recreation Commission’s chair that the entire Skate House will be torn down after the delay period expires on February 24.
EXHIBITS HAVE BEEN POSTED ON THE HISTORICAL COMMISSION PAGE ON THE TOWN OF HINGHAM WEBSITE.